Ramadan is a time to purify our souls and strengthen our faith, says Abda Oturkar, a Dubai-based culinary expert. It is also a time to cleanse and detoxify our bodies, she adds.
"That's why it's important that we end the fast with a simple, well-balanced meal, as prescribed by the Sunnah," says Oturkar, who has studied naturopathy, Unani medicine and Ayurveda to understand ancient principles of preparing healthy food and learn about the medicinal, nutritional and digestive properties of spices and other natural ingredients used in cooking. Oturkar runs a catering company in Dubai called Spice & Aroma and shares her knowledge with others by conducting classes, giving talks on spices and organising food-related events in the city. She is also writing a book about spices.
This Ramadan, Oturkar has teamed up with chef Sameh Yousuf, the executive chef of Holiday Inn Dubai in Al Barsha, to conduct a four-day cookery course featuring sohour and iftar recipes inspired by age-old kitchens and traditions of the Muslim world. Chef Yousuf, who hails from Egypt with 15 years of experience in leading hotels, is an expert in Middle Eastern cuisine.
"We worked together to research traditional Arabian and Asian recipes and created contemporary healthy versions," Oturkur says.
During the classes, which were held recently, chef Yousuf demonstrated how the dishes are prepared while Oturkar explained to participants the medicinal and digestive properties of the herbs, spices and other ingredients used in them and the correct way to use them. "We focused on dishes that are easy to prepare, nutritious, well balanced and tasty. And we showed the participants how to alter popular recipes to make them healthier," chef Yousuf says.
Unwind asked the two experts to share some of their recipes and tips for healthy eating:
Abda Oturkar's recipes for iftar and sohour:
Cold fruit soup
- 2 ears of corn, medium
- 4 tomatoes, big, cored and coarsely chopped
- 1-1/2 cups orange juice, fresh
- 2 tbs lime juice, fresh
- 1-1/2 tsp chilli powder
- 1 tbs red grape vinegar
- Coriander/sea salt, coarsely ground
- 10 black olives, oil-cured, pitted and thinly sliced
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the corn and cook until crisp-tender (about four minutes). Drain and let cool. Cut the kernels from the cobs. Meanwhile, in a food processor, purée the tomatoes until smooth.
Pass the tomatoes through a food mill or a fine sieve set over a large bowl; you should have about seven cups of juice. Stir in the orange juice, lime juice, chilli powder, coriander and vinegar and season with salt. Refrigerate until chilled.
Ladle the chilled soup into cups. Garnish with the olive slices and corn kernels and serve. The soup can be refrigerated for up to six hours. Serve chilled.
White soup (Tharidah)
- 900g lamb with bones
- 215 ounce chickpeas, canned
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 3/4 tsp galangal, grated
- 4-5 cinnamon sticks, inch-long
- 1 white onion, large
- 6 carrots
- 5 ounce almonds
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
- 1/2 litre water
- 3 egg whites
- 1 litre milk
Boil the meat in water with galangal and cinnamon for 25-30 minutes till it is cooked.
In a large pot, boil chopped carrots in a little water. Drain the carrots, add milk, sliced onion and discard the liquid in the can, rinse and add chickpeas. Boil for ten minutes.
Take the pieces of lamb and add it to the pot of soup. You could separate the meat or have it on the bone. Strain through a sieve and cheesecloth the juices, if any.
Add to boiling soup, mix in fine-ground almonds, eggs, vinegar and spices. Cook for another five minutes. Serve hot.
Chef Sameh Yousuf's Middle Eastern recipes:
- 180g lamb chops
- 30g olive oil
- 10g parsley, chopped
- 5g cumin powder
- 5g salt
- 5g black pepper
- 20g labneh
- 5g tarragon, chopped
- 25g garlic, chopped
Marinate the chops with olive oil, salt, cumin powder, pepper and chopped parsley for 15 minutes. Then grill the chops till brown on both sides. Apply some olive oil and chopped garlic and grill for few more minutes. Place the chops in a baking tray in the oven at 200°C for 15 minutes. Prepare the dip by mixing labneh, chopped garlic, salt and chopped tarragon. Serve the lamb chops hot, with the dip.
Samak bil forn
- 180g hammour fillet
- 25g olive oil
- 27ml tahina
- 5g salt
- 5g coriander, fresh
- 5g garlic
- 10ml lemon juice
Marinate the fish fillet with olive oil, chopped coriander, lemon juice, chopped garlic, salt and pepper for 15 minutes. Then cook in the oven at 180°C for 15 minutes. In a warmed pan, put tahina, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper and whisk well. Add water if needed. Cook on low heat with continuous whisking for a few minutes.
Pour the warm tahina sauce over the fish and serve with crispy Arabic bread.
Comments from Oturkar:
"With Ramadan coming in summer this year, it is good to have a cold soup on the iftar menu. The white soup is based on a 10th-century Andalusian recipe and is ideal for sohour as it helps keep the body hydrated. Both dishes have a good mix of natural ingredients that help digestion and absorption of nutrients."
Chef Yousuf's comments:
"We have created lighter versions of these traditional dishes by substituting frying with grilling or baking and using healthy ingredients such as olive oil, sesame [tahina], labneh, garlic and fresh herbs and greens."